Common Advice

Collected here are some of the most common pieces of advice we give our partners. Consider if this advice is relevant to work you're doing and worth applying. In a nutshell: preparation gives your learners the best experience!

Breakout Rooms

Sending participants into breakout rooms to engage in a discussion or complete an activity? Avoid the "what are we supposed to be doing?" questions that so often occur at the start.

Equip them with the discussion/activity prompt and parameters in written form:

  • If you're using a web conferencing tool that lets you control what participants see when they're in their breakout room, post the prompt/parameters in their room
  • If you're not using a tool that gives you control over what participants see in their breakout rooms, give them (in advance of sending them into breakout rooms) a document or PowerPoint that contains the prompt/parameters so they can reference, and perhaps screen-share, it when in their breakout rooms
Role-playing Exercises

Workshops and ILTs often feature role-playing exercises where:

  • Participant A plays a role that draws on what is being learned...
  • While Participant B plays a role that allows Participant A to practice what is being learned — it's often a "behave badly" or "behave in a way you wouldn't normally" sort of role...
  • And Participant A's ability to practice what is being learned hinges in large part on how well Participant B plays their role — that is, on how well Participant B can role-play and improvise

The challenge with these exercises is that role-playing and improvisation are real skills that most people haven't spent much time developing. And, if Participant B isn't prepared to succeed, that diminishes Participant A's opportunity to practice. The solution?

Provide "Participant B" with guidance that helps them play their role. This could come in the form of:

  • Character templates
    • I.e., "characters" Participant B could pretend to be
    • E.g., colleague who exhibits a bias related to ______; client who causes problems by doing ______
  • Character notes (possibly per character template)
    • E.g., motivations, personality traits, difficulties, etc.
  • Stock dialogue Participant B could deploy if they aren't sure what to say
    • E.g., things colleagues/clients commonly say; things Participant A is likely to hear on the job; things that set up Participant A to deploy what is being learned; etc.
Self-recorded Audio

Before recording your own audio for an eLearning project, consider if it really is the best option in terms of time, money and quality.

If you don't have a background in audio production, it will likely take you longer to record and edit audio than it would a professional; not to mention the fact that any time spent on audio production is time taken away from your other duties, which could translate to a higher monetary cost to your department or organization than if you contracted an audio professional.

And, if you compare the quality of what you produce to the quality of professionally-produced audio, you'll likely notice significant differences stemming from a dedicated recording environment, professional-grade equipment and vocal training.

Slide Content

This advice is primarily for slides in ILT trainings/workshops, but the underlying principles can also be applicable for asynchronous eCourses.

Be aware of the cognitive dissonance that can occur when your audience tries to listen to and read two separate things simultaneously, such as when you have slide text that does not match what you're saying while that slide text is visible. What often happens in such situations is that the audience will neither listen nor read as well as they would have if they were only engaging with one information channel, so they're likely to miss what you're trying to communicate to them.

To prevent this dissonance, consider minimizing the slide text visible during presentations so it: A) matches what you're saying; and B) reflects the bare minimum needed to facilitate multi-channel connections. Some practitioners will (understandably) argue that this inhibits the slides' ability to serve learners in a reference/review capacity, but ultimately, the best way to serve learners is to have two different slide decks: one that's stripped down and used during the live presentation and another that contains all the information you wanted to share and is given to learners after the presentation.

Explore more on this topic in Pairing Text with Audio.

Slide Divisions

This advice is primarily for slides in ILT trainings/workshops. The underlying principles can be applicable for asynchronous eCourses as well, but you'd need to account for different accessibility considerations in that environment; explore the eCourse Multimedia Integration checklist within the Updated eCourse Accessibility Checklist (pdf) for more information on topics such as making timed content available to assistive technologies and determining if timed content necessitates captions.

Changing visuals can help learners stay engaged, so try to give your audience something new or different to look at every 20-60 seconds. This could mean introducing a bulleted list bullet-by-bullet, as each bullet is discussed; it could also mean separating that bulleted list into several slides. Most of the time, you only need multiple pieces of information in the same slide if you're engaging with all of them simultaneously, such as by comparing or contrasting them.

Transitioning From On-ground to Online

There's more to say about transitioning from on-ground/in-person learning to online learning than can possibly fit on this page, but here are two, quick, high-level considerations to help guide such efforts:

You may have to invest more in being perceived as credible

We often take for granted how much credibility and authority are intrinsically lent by our on-ground learning environments. Attending lectures on prestigious campuses or workshops in professional conference rooms preps learners unconsciously to expect that the information they'll be receiving is of the utmost value. Online, however, you don't have that physical environment lending your material automatic credibility. Instead, you have to invest more in both doing things that add to your perceived credibility and not doing things that detract from your perceived credibility.

For example, with online content, it's worth investing more in your content's visual appearance, since internet users are conditioned to associate good design with credibility, and sometimes, the simplest way to achieve good design is to not do things, like being inconsistent with fonts, font sizes, graphic styles and layout, that make content appear less professional and less meticulous and thus less trustworthy. Technical issues, especially those that are easily caught and corrected through testing, also detract from credibility. Investing in better audio quality, especially for asynchronous eLearning, will also pay dividends.

You're in a much fiercer competition for your audience's attention

Learners in classrooms and conference rooms typically have few options for distracting themselves. Maybe they can doodle or sneak a glance at their phones, but for the most part, there's not much else they can do other than pay attention to the instructor.

The online environment is completely different. Facebook, Twitter and all your learners' favorite websites are only a browser tab away; they don't have to worry about being scolded for looking at their phones; and there's so much more around them with which they could be engaging.

So you, the instructor or content creator, must put more of an effort into capturing and keeping your audience's attention. Try humor and pop-culture references. Change visuals more frequently so learners pay attention for fear of missing something; e.g., instead of one slide with five bullet points that you stay on for two minutes, try five slides with individual points that you transition between every 20, or so, seconds. Make your sessions more interactive, with polls, quizzes, breakout discussions and applied learning.

Utilize Examples

Adult learners thrive on examples; they help demonstrate information, expose learners to the variety of real-world ways in which they may encounter the information, reinforce understanding and boost confidence.

Consider ways in which you can enrich your materials with examples, and the more applicable the examples, the better!

Also, consider how you can reinforce information through activities and activity feedback so the activities themselves can serve as fully-explored examples.

Visual Design

Most in-person learning environments lend an air of automatic credibility. For instance, lectures take place on established campuses, often in impressive lecture halls; similarly, workshops usually occur in professional conference rooms and hospitality centers.

Without that physical environment in online learning, your visual design takes on more of the responsibility to create and maintain that implicit sense of trust and authority, but don't let that intimidate you. There are a few simple things anyone — including "non-designers" — can do to enhance their content's visual design:

  1. Visual consistency is critical:
    • Simply avoiding inconsistencies can make your content appear more professional
    • Use the same font and font-size for all body text
    • Be consistent with your other typographic settings (e.g., paragraph spacing, tracking, etc.)
    • Align content to create structured layouts
    • Avoid (overly) mixing graphics of different types and styles, especially in the same page or slide
    • Your content doesn't need to be completely templated — a little variety is okay — as long as you're consistently following the same general rules/principles/patterns
  2. Avoid using low-resolution, pixilated graphics
    • Strive to find high-resolution versions of the graphics you want to deploy
    • With some types of graphics — such as graphs and diagrams — you may be able to re-create your own higher-resolution version; just remember to cite the original source
  3. Seek out inspiration and borrow aspects of designs you find visually appealing
    • Even for professional designers, a large portion of their ideas come from being inspired by what someone else has done